Hey Ya'll, thanks again for the reviews and sorry it took so long for chapter 3. I got back from the Con and was swamped with end of the semester work. Plus, I still hadn't quite worked out the ending, but I think this is good enough. I must warn...
WAT SPOILER!! - there is one spoiler down at the bottom I used a character line. I couldn't help it, it just fit too perfectly. So if you are remaining spoiler free, be warned. It is a small one, but there you have it.
Other than that, I hope you all enjoy. Aang's mature side shows a bit in this chapter. After all, he has his moments of clarity. He's come a long way. This is the end, so any final words are always appreciated.
I do not own Avatar, although I do so enjoy playing in their universe.
Edit: Ok, so I decided I didn't like the ending just being left like that. It felt...incomplete, so I added just a little bit to make it more circular. Sorry if you've already read it before the changes. Thanks for all the fast responses. I'm really glad you all enjoyed it. Although this one is over, I have a few other ideas so we'll just see if time allows. Summer is coming. ;)
Peace and Happy Writings!
Chapter Three: The Reason
"What do you think that one looks like?" Katara pointed to a cluster of stars shining brightly in the night sky.
"hmmmm…" Aang furrowed his brow, one arm wrapped around Katara's shoulders and the other coming up to touch his chin. "An arrow?"
Katara laughed and elbowed his side gently, her head resting on the arm he had draped over her. They were still in their swim clothes, letting them dry on their bodies in the warm night air. They'd left the cave a little bit ago, not entirely ready to go back yet, so making themselves comfortable on the grassy area towards the edge of the outcropping they had landed on. "You think everything looks like an arrow."
Aang shrugged with a smile. "Hey, I'm partial to arrows."
She rolled her eyes at him, looking back up at the sky. "I think it looks like a dragon."
Aang tilted his head to the left, mimicking her posture. "Oh, I see it. And those ones look like the fire coming out of its mouth." He pointed with his unoccupied arm.
Katara smiled, letting the sounds of the night fill their ears and surround them a moment. She felt more relaxed than she had in…well…probably years. Until she met Aang, she'd almost forgotten what it was like to lie around and do nothing, or indulge in fun activities. She turned her head towards him, watching him stare up at the stars in childlike joy. "Thank you for this."
Aang crinkled his brow and turned his head to look at her. "For what?"
"This." She swept her arm around to encompass their surroundings. "I feel…peaceful, and I really needed that."
The airbender smiled and leaned up on his free elbow to get a good look at her eyes. He got lost in them for a moment, like the pool they had just been swimming in, crystal blue. "You're welcome." He sat up a little more, reluctantly slipping his arm out from beneath her, he pulled his bare knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. "The truth is…" He stuttered. "Well, I mean, you do that for me all the time Katara. From the moment I met you actually." He lowered his gaze to the ground in a terribly shy gesture. "You're always there for me. Comforting me, protecting me, saving me!" He picked his arms up to emphasize the last words. "I mean…" He let out a frustrated breath, at a loss for words and simply turned his gaze back towards the grass.
She lay there staring at him for a long moment, watching as he struggled for the right thing to say, not realizing that she already understood him. He usually didn't have to say what he was feeling. She would pick up on it eventually. She sat up, hands picking at the grass beneath her. "You feel guilty that I have to do those things for you. Like maybe you should stand on your own or something." Just like on the Fire Nation ship. When will he realize!
Aang lowered his head even further so that all she could see was the top of his arrow. He hugged himself a little tighter. "It is that…but more. You're…" He tilted his head upward. "You're my family Katara, and you offered your brother and yourself up as such before you even knew me, because you saw a scared kid with nothing and that's just who you are. You help people, and while I love that about you, there is a part of me that wishes I never would have burdened you like that. You've lost so much because you stood by me, and I know I should let you go. Guru Pathik told me, but I can't. If I do, I just…I wouldn't know what to do." He closed his eyes and let his head drop guiltily. "I'm sorry Katara."
She sat confused before turning to face him, but all she could see what his back, and the large scar blaring out at her. It made her wince every time she saw it, remembering the night it was placed on him.
"Aang?" She paused a moment, waiting for him to look at her. "Do you remember what Avatar Roku told you, about friendships lasting more than one lifetime?"
He nodded, swiveling his head just a little bit on his knees to look at her through is peripheral vision.
"Roku had a wife didn't he? Ta Min? She stood by him right? You told me how long they waited for each other in your vision. That she gave up a good portion of her years while he did his avatar training?"
"He didn't exactly tell me that, but I sorta thought she did. I mean, in the vision, you could just tell the way she looked at him. She had waited."
Katara nodded. "Do you remember what she looked like?"
Now, he lifted his head off his knees, confusion on his face as he turned to look at her more fully, not at all sure where she was going. He took in the color of her hair, the shape of her eyes. Not quite like Ta Min's but glowing like hers seemed to be, especially the way she looked when she was younger, when she was Katara's age. She had kind of worn her hair like…His eyes widened as he sat up straighter and blinked.
A slow smile curved on Katara's lips and she couldn't help a little red coming to her cheeks. He was looking at her so intensely. She had to turn away momentarily, but quickly brought her eyes back to him.
"It was you! She was you, you…I mean." Aang fumbled and shut his mouth not quite sure what to say.
Katara chuckled, turning even redder. "I sort of figured it out when we were…um…kissing in the pool. There are lots of past lives…past wives or…partners of the avatar there. They tried to rush me when we connected."
Aang stared at her in utter amazement, it all making since now. "They did me too! It was like they were all trying to get back to their match. I didn't know what was going on but…" He shook his head, still blown away by the realization. Then he thought about something and raised his eyebrow at her. "You fought for me didn't you?"
She swallowed and looked down at her hands. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Aang's smile grew. "Yeah you do. Cause they all backed off. I couldn't get through, but they retreated and then I was back with you. It was like someone told them to."
Katara shrugged and kept looking at the ground, trying to hide her embarrassed smile that just wouldn't go from her face. "Well, maybe I did." She looked up at him and laughed delicately. "They we're in my way."
Aang chuckled and leaned a little closer to her. "You know. I'm suddenly really glad you're so bossy."
Katara reached out and slapped him across the shoulder. "Hey!" She was about to work herself into a tizzy, but he was just sitting there smiling at her with that grin that always melted the anger right out of her. Before she knew it, she was chuckling at her lack of resolve. "I hate when you do that."
Aang continued to smile at her. "Hate? That's such a strong word." He leaned in a little closer, his expression changing to one of playful seduction.
She laughed and rolled her eyes, pushing him back just a little bit. "Ok, now you're just being full of yourself. You really should learn how to compliment a girl too."
His smile faded and he looked confused. Katara gave him a quizitive look, then holding out one hand in mocking form said, "Well, if it was between kissing you and dying…"
The airbender turned bright red and dropped his head. "You're never going to let me live that down are you?"
Katara grinned as wide as he had been just a moment before. "Nope. Not ever. And if all this is true about our past lives, then ever is going to be a long time."
He tried so hard to hide it, the smile growing on his face as he let out a pretend groan, but all it really did was serve to make Katara laugh. Shyly, he snaked his arm back around her waist and pulled her just a little closer to him so their shoulders were touching. The sounds of night filled their ears as their banter died down and they sat in silence a moment of perfect contentment, but Aang felt it shift in the air as Katara shoulders slumped just slightly.
"Aang. I have a confession to make."
He looked at her, not sure what on earth she could confess that could dim her brightness like that.
"When I think about you being locked in that iceberg for 100 years…I know it kills you knowing that the world fell apart during that time, that so much was lost, but…selfishly?" She looked at him sincerely. "I'm grateful. If you'd been alive for those years, I would have missed you. We never…it just wouldn't have happened." She bit her lip, ashamed to say her feelings out loud like that. After all, the world had needed the avatar, but so did she, 100 years later, more than anything.
Aang looked down at their hands a moment, rolling over what she had said and what they had been talking about all night. She had hit a nerve with him, and she knew it. That was why she had hesitated, but the fact remained, he had left the world hanging, he had let his nation die, and the guilt was sometimes unbearable. He could almost feel the water and heart chakras becoming blocked again, but he stopped himself. Instead of drowning in guilt and grief he thought about what she had said. The meaning behind it. It was true. If he hadn't been frozen, he would have missed her. If he was even still alive he would have been a very, very old man by the time she was even born. It had always been a mystery to him, why he was frozen so long. He had come to learn that nothing in his life was ever by chance. There was always a reason. A reason he was frozen, a reason it was Katara who freed him. His eyes lightened up, his chakras clearing as guilt and grief flowed down the creek, and he looked at her with all the warmth he felt. "I waited for you."
She saw the smile return to his lips, but not his goofy or self assured smile, this was the smile of sincerity. The one that expressed his heart and showed what kind of man he truly was. As his words filled her chest, she couldn't help but mirror it back to him. She reached out and clung to him, tightly, as if a dam were breaking inside of her and for once, she let him be the strong one. She let him comfort her, protect her, save her.
After a little bit he pulled away and smiled tenderly, wiping the little tear on her cheek away with one finger. "Your heart is beating so fast."
She let out a releasing laugh, pulling back her tears and looked at him. "It does that when I get too close to you. I used to be afraid you'd hear it before. That's why I never hugged you for too long." She chuckled again at the irony.
Aang took her hand and brought it up to his chest, placing it over his heart. "You make mine calm. It's when I'm away from you that I feel like it's going to leap out of my chest."
She smiled delicately, feeling the steady pace of its beat. Not sure what to say, she simply looked at him with tinted red cheeks. He leaned in, kissed her nose, and rescued her.
"We should probably be heading back before your brother wakes up and skins my tattooed hide."
Katara laughed, letting him help her up and dusting off her bum. She walked over to her pile of robes and started putting them on as he did the same. Her underclothes now completely dry, as was her hair, although it was in quite the state of disarray. "Don't worry. Toph will protect you."
Aang laughed as he slipped his the orange strap of his tunic over his shoulder. "What makes you think he'll listen?"
Katara stopped tying the knot of her pants and looked at him.
"Oh, that's right. She's Toph."
They both laughed and he grabbed his glider, flinging it open and kneeling down so she could climb on. "Ready for another ride princess?"
Katara grinned as she walked up to him, fully dressed. "Sugar Queen will do just fine Aang. Thank you." She snootily threw her hair back, making fun of herself, and climbed aboard the airbender express.
"Where have you two been?!" Sokka came running out of the air temple practically pulling out his hair and looking like he had been foaming at the mouth.
Katara rolled her eyes as she stepped forward, saving a rather pale and petrified Avatar from speaking. She extended the front flap of her dress and showed him the mound of berries and fruits her and Aang had picked. His eyes lit up and he jutting his hand out taking a handful and smashing them into his mouth.
"Mmmm. This is tasty." Then he glared back at them. "That still doesn't explain where you two have been?!"
Toph stepped forward at that point, letting out an exasperated sigh. "Doesn't it? You think the berries just magically appeared in her gown?"
Sokka glared at his sister and the rather quiet airbender beside her. His eyes leaped back and forth from one to the next. Katara stayed perfectly calm and poised with annoyance, and his eyes fixated on Aang who looked rather fidgety and nervous. He opened his mouth to confront this suspicious behavior, but Katara elbowed him and walked right past him.
"We wanted to surprise you with a good breakfast. Common, I'm making berry meal cakes."
The young warrior followed his sister with his head, then whipped back around to give Aang a harsh look. He pointed at the avatar. "I got my eye on you young man." Then he flipped around and marched after the food exaggeratedly.
Aang let out a huge breath of relief and slumped forward.
"That was close Twinkle Toes. Next time you take her out like that, come back before he wakes up." She reached out and punched his arm so hard he teetered a bit. She couldn't see the warm smile that came to his face though as he rubbed his arm.
"And don't sneak out of our room again like that. It insults my senses."
Aang chuckled and faced his teacher with a graceful bow. "Yes Sifu Toph."
Suddenly Aang heard Katara let out a loud, angry yell, and the sound of water freezing and cracking. He and Toph were off running before the sound had passed all the way through their ears.
"Katara!" He skidded to a halt to see Zuko frozen to the wall of the temple, an empty pot that had obviously been boiling water in it seconds before, and a very pissed off waterbender poised to slice his throat.
"Hold on! Wait! I come in peace!" The fire prince shouted and would have held up his hands if they weren't already frozen to the wall.
"Don't even try that trick again!" Katara shouted furiously at him and took an aggressive step forward.
"Yeah!" Sokka added brandishing his club, attempting to be ferocious and not having any idea what his sister meant by that.
"No! I mean it this time. I've changed!"
"Shut your trap! I've heard it before."
"I know, but it's for good this time. I was confused before, but I'm not now. I want to teach the avatar firebending."
"Not if I can help it!" Katara raised her hands, a stream of water flying with them and glinting in the rising sun like the edge of a blade.
"Katara wait." Aang stepped forward and delicately placed a hand on her shoulder, halting her attempt to behead the fire prince. "Let's hear him out."
The waterbender blinked, her eyes widening indignantly but still holding her water sword high. "What! Have you lost your mind?! He's just trying to trick you! He's done it before. Aang, you cannot be buying this!"
He pursed his lips and looked at Zuko, studied him hard as the Fire Prince looked right as if he were offering Aang his life story to read and judge as he saw fit. The Avatar's face suddenly soften as it became clear to him. He turned back to Katara, reached up slowly, and gently brought her hands downward. Water splashed at their feet as she stared at him in utter shock.
She leaned towards him, lowering her voice so only he could hear. Sokka and Toph were still a few feet away, standing at the ready, but Zuko was close enough to hear and he watched, heart pounding for his fate. "I can't risk losing you again Aang. What happened in Ba Sing Se was because of him, because of his lies."
Aang took a deep breath, still holding her wrists with great tenderness. He spoke to her eyes, eliminating the onlookers and speaking as if it were just the two of them. "I know, but remember what you said? About why I might have been frozen for so long? I know I was waiting for you, but I think that may have just been a part of it Katara. What if I was waiting for other pieces to fall into place too?"
Katara shook her head ever so slightly. "I don't understand."
"Think about it. Who would have taught me firebending 100 years ago, when the war was first started and my people were being slaughtered? Who would have taught me 50 years ago, when the Water Tribes were being picked apart? 20 years ago! Katara…Until this moment, there hasn't been a soul for a century that would have taught me."
She shook her head in disbelief, voice raising just a little bit. "That's not true. Jeong Jeong, Iroh!"
Aang pursed his lips again and squeezed her hands. "Jeong Jeong didn't leave the army till maybe 10 years ago, if that. Less than 16 years ago, Iroh was trying to bring down the walls of Ba Sing Se. He was one of the greatest Fire Nation generals. Even if I could have waited for them, would I have lived that long? Katara, you were the one who made me realize there was a reason I was frozen for so long. All the pieces weren't in place yet for me to actually stop this war. The same is true for what happened at Ba Sing Se and at the palace. You said so yourself, I have to learn all four elements, that's my path, and until I do I won't ever be able to defeat the Fire Lord. The truth is, there hasn't ever been a time when that was actually possible, until right now, this moment, when a firebender literally shows up on an airbender door step." His voice got a little louder and more poignant as he spoke, trying desperately to reach her. Zuko watched with utter fascination as he listened to their conversation.
Katara listened, and stared at him for what seemed like a very long time after he finished. He couldn't tell what exactly she was thinking, but he watched as her logic and emotions dueled behind her eyes, and eventually, her logic won when she lowered her head in concede. Without a word she released one of his hands and held it up to the frozen ice holding Zuko and lowered it, perhaps with a little too much force as she sent the Fire Prince smacking into the ground with a loud 'ooof!'.
Sokka and Toph came forward as Katara slipped her second hand out of Aang's and quietly stepped away from him to face them.
"What's going on?" Sokka demanded as Zuko slowly rose.
Aang was watching Katara, feeling her distance as she crossed her arms. He sighed and stepped forward. "I want to hear Zuko out. I need a firebending teacher, and he's the only possibility to come along since Jeong Jeong."
"Whose…" Toph stopped herself and shook her head. "Never mind. If it's important, I'll find out about it." She watched as Zuko dusted himself off and came to stand just to the side of Aang. He bowed.
"Thank you for giving me a chance. I know I haven't been…well…erm….the most, trust worthy person, but I will prove to you I have changed and I'm ready to help you defeat my father."
Katara whipped around, hair whipping her face then flying back to rest on her shoulder. "Oh, so that's it! You're mad at your Daddy and now you want the Avatar's help to destroy him?"
Zuko blinked. "Um…well, I am mad at my Dad. If I wanted to fight him I already could have, but that's not my destiny. That's his." He pointed to Aang and carefully watched the rest of the group's reactions.
Aang sighed. "Why don't we all go sit down and talk about this." He turned his head from the group to where Katara had been standing, but he only caught her shadow slipping around the corner. His heart sank to his feet remembering the dream like moments they had shared a mere hour earlier. He knew they would work it out, but the night memories had been replaced with reality much too soon. Perhaps one day soon, another quiet night would present itself and the morning would bring only new dreams.
These things they go away, replaced by everyday, Nightswimming...